Bring the Tribeca Film Festival to your home with Tribeca at Home. Here are 3 worthwhile films on taboo topics.
I’ve covered the Tribeca Festival multiple times during my tenure in New York City. However, this year, I chose to remain at home and pursue their virtual offerings via their online portal Tribeca at Home.
As is my typical fashion when watching a film festival, I tend to click through most offerings in search of something that could hold my ever-decreasing attention span. In the past, I recall being on the cutting edge when I covered such films as the 2008 award-winning documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell which addressed the controversial manner in which women in Liberia used the power of non-violent civil disobedience to bring bout the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first African nation with a female president. This film featured Leymah Gbowee, who later went on to win the Nobel Peace prize in 2011, and I remain proud of my role in helping to bring this film to light.
This year, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few films of this quality that focused on subjects deemed taboo in our current sociopolitical culture such as child sex abuse, alternative sexuality, and yes, even reading. Among the gems I think are worth noting include Butterfly in the Sky, a documentary about the storied 25-year history of Reading Rainbow that filled my heart with a Mr. Rogers kind of warmth (even though I was a grown adult when this show debuted). I never thought of PBS as presenting taboo topics though as depicted in this documentary, this network tends to give conservative Christian the willies.
My film watching took on a much more serious turn when I clicked on Leave No Trace. This documentary depicts the story of those 82,000 men who stepped forward with claims of sexual abuse, thus exposing the failure of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to protect their young scouts. As the abuses continued to mount, I wanted to turn away but was too enthralled by the careful precision regarding how this story got unpacked layer by layer.
While I believe no subject can be deemed too taboo to ever satirize, the documentary reminded me why Saturday Night Live’s 1994 sketch involving Canteen Boy and his inappropriate scoutmaster made me wince. How might this all-American tragedy play out had Boy Scouts of America (BSA) chosen to use this SNL sketch as the springboard for an actual investigation into the sexcapades hinted at by this sketch? Instead, abuses against scouts by their scoutmasters continued until the SBA filed for bankruptcy in February 2020. This action resulted in the largest sexual abuse settlement in history, dwarfing even that of the US Catholic Church. (This makes me wonder what else might be hidden behind the hallowed walls of not just the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) but our nation’s seemingly heralded and beloved institutions.
In an ideal world, this Scouts saga would end Law & Order: SVU style with the perpetrators behind bars. However, this documentary closes on a much more ambiguous note. The future of scouting remains as unclear as do other cases involving the sexual abuse of children. Furthermore, until we address the desire of those in power to protect the predators within their midst, I fear such abuses will continue.
I decided to lighten things up with the narrative film Nude Tuesday, a film described by The New Zealand Herald as “almost definitely the most starkers New Zealand film ever made.” Furthermore, the plot seemed perfectly primed for porn—a middle-aged couple’s marriage has gone stale. So they agree to attend a couple’s retreat held in the middle of seemingly nowhere and led by a horny guru with a teddy bear-like personality.
In touching upon the taboo subject of sex, I’ve noticed how film festivals tend to feature an “edgy” exploration into alt. sexuality replete with naked bodies depicting varying degrees of “edginess.” The media present at these press screenings tends to sit there deer in the headlights style. No one wants to be the little boy who cries out “The Emperor has no clothes on.” But it’s clear from our facial expressions as we exit the screening that most of us think the film in question veers more towards exploitative and prurient than illuminating and enlightening.
Fortunately, as I was watching this narrative film at home, I did not need to worry about such awkward exchanges. Yet, I found myself wishing I was in a room of like-minded souls, so we could all savor such silliness together. In particular, having the characters speak in a totally made-up gibberish language added to the childlike sense of wonderment as our lead characters finally thawed out in some most unexpected and delightful ways.
Furthermore, as someone who’s familiar with the sex-positive scene in Portland, let’s just say the guru reminded me of those self-appointed shamans who market themselves as offering a new way of connecting but are, in fact, con men. This film could have easily taken a darker tone especially when the guru’s wife and son appear, thus exposing him as more egotistical than enlightened, the film’s tone kept the mood lighthearted throughout. Yet somehow the lighthearted nature of this flick coupled with the fact that those participating appeared to be at the age of consent and retained their smiling sensibilities throughout the film enabled me to cheer and not cringe at their antics.
While nothing can replace the in-person excitement of catching world premieres, Tribeca at Home afforded me the opportunity to capture some glimmers of movies that can break through current taboos and make us think, hope, and at times, even laugh out loud.
For those interested in delving into the Scouts saga, Leave No Trace can be streamed on Hulu. According to their film publicist, Nude Tuesday is for sale in most territories by Cornerstone Films. Also, Butterly in the Sky is still seeking distribution. Meanwhile, all these films can be streamed online via Tribeca at Home through June 26, 2022.